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Celebrity Wrangling

Corralling stars for small events? Think pals, pampering and photo ops.

January 31, 2007|Sheigh Crabtree | Special to The Times

WRANGLING celebrities during award season is much like herding skittish, overly pampered cats. Veteran event organizers must coax stars early and often with the soft purr of endearments, and the scent of a gravy train worth of media coverage.

One of the most fraught, yet undocumented rituals of the award season is the sport of celebrity hunting. Luring a nominated actor to an established award show with broadcast guarantees and ample photo ops is no sweat but try getting them to a festival out of town or to smaller award shows (read: events honoring nonactors). It's tough but not impossible. We quizzed the top celebrity conduits and brought back five key tips for roping a celebrity.

Hire experience

You wouldn't pull your own wisdom teeth, would you? Reeling in celebs is another such don't-try-this-at-home maneuver. If it's stars you need, engage a Hollywood-based publicist-cum-award strategist who knows the ropes and key players. In-town press agents such as Ronni Chasen, Carol Marshall, Lisa Taback, Michele Robertson and Lea Yardum, among others, can help open the lines of communication between studios, event organizers, celebrity publicists and the media.

Chasen and Marshall were brought on to lift the profiles of the Palm Springs and Santa Barbara international film festivals, respectively. By wooing A-list celebs, the events attract national media, which attracts more celebrities, who know that an amply photographed star is a steady reminder at award and movie casting time.

Go for the ones you know

Look for personal connections between celebrities and others on the guest list. Like any negotiation in Hollywood, a personal relationship is the currency that greases the wheels of an in-person appearance. Because, really, who likes going to a party where you don't know anyone? Often at least one of an organization's board of directors is a producer or filmmaker who can extend a friendly invitation to the stars. Hollywood Film Festival co-chairwoman Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise's producing partner and wife of CAA co-chairman Rick Nicita, has been a critical factor in festooning the event's award gala with celebs.

Paving the way for future business opportunities is a prime motivator, but personal filmmaking allegiances can count for a lot too. Naomi Watts' introduction of "Babel" at the Golden Globes had less to do with her nearly nonexistent best actress campaign for "The Painted Veil" than her personal relationship with Oscar nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (with whom she bonded during production of "21 Grams").

Do the right thing

Celebrities have no qualms about attending events that bring attention and donations to causes they believe in. Harrison Ford, normally that rare white unicorn on the award circuit, made an appearance to promote "Hotel Rwanda" at a fundraiser for UNICEF. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival's environmentally oriented Attenborough Award has tempted James Cameron and Al Gore to appear. Similarly, the Palm Springs fest's hosting of the SAG Foundation's Patron of the Arts Award this year drew Sydney Pollack and star presenters. Even best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, who has a reported aversion to swag parlors and galas, has been enticed to some eco-minded gift suites and shindigs. (Although, DiCaprio has his limits. The actor turned up at a Golden Globes gift suite this year supporting eco-organization Global Green but reportedly refused to be photographed after loading up on swag.)

It's all in the timing

Dragging a celebrity to an award event during the off-season can be like finding a snow leopard in the Gobi Desert. It's all about the timing. "Timing, visibility and prestige are everything," says Chasen. Timing has certainly worked in favor of the Hollywood Film Festival, which bestows the earliest honors on contenders in mid-October. Palm Springs brings attention to celebrities in early January, when award nomination ballots are still out and initial nods are up for grabs.

Go first class

Celebrities require amenities the rest of us wouldn't dream of, meaning award organizers have to be prepared for outrageous requests. Last year, when the Santa Barbara festival screened the documentary "Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?)," Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson's reps told organizers he would not attend unless he was served a Diet Coke and hot popcorn. Unfortunately, there were no concessions available in the theater. But Wilson's involvement "was important enough to us that I said, 'I'll hand-pick the kernels of popcorn myself,' " said Roger Durling, the festival's director.

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